When it comes to horses, troubles come in multitudes. Multitudes of lame legs.
Gracie, the hunter pony, kicked things off by deciding she didn’t want to be caught. A pony who is running at full pelt round a seven-acre field at the sight of you with a headcollar hidden in a feed bucket is a tricky thing.
You can walk away and be philosophical about it or you can do the full Monty Roberts. This involves standing your ground, refusing to go away, following the pony relentlessly around the field, breaking its will to defy you.
Gracie has an iron will. When she decides that I’m an inconvenience to be avoided at all costs there is nothing I can do to take charge of the situation.
‘Me boss pony, you sucker who pays bills’ — that’s her philosophy, and she’s sticking to it.
She has been living out since the summer in a beautiful field with Tara the old chestnut hunter, who gave me many years of patchy service. Limited periods of somewhat happy hacking were punctuated by long bouts of attempted murder before, finally, she bucked me off on a main road in front of a car, very much because she was having one of her legendary off-days.
That was the last time I rode her. I led her back to the yard, had the farrier take off her shoes, and turned her away in a field to do as she pleased. That was nearly ten years ago.
She is now 32, or ninetysomething in human years. This summer I decided to cut my livery bills by taking Gracie to live with her, knowing how little the cheeky skewbald pony likes being stabled anyway.
She has been blissfully happy gallivanting round the field with Tara, who is too old to do any more than flatten her ears and snarl at her, very much like Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit who lived to 180 years. (I think Tara might beat him.)
But Gracie likes the field so much she cannot be caught, except by two people moving in a pincer movement to corner her.
So there I was alone in the field the other morning, trying to catch her with no help, with a wind blowing.
She galloped around me in huge circles laughing — laughing, I tell you — then began charging me like a bull, ears back, teeth out. At the very last moment, before mowing me down at full pelt, she would turn on a sixpence and veer off in another direction.
With hindsight, I should have left her alone. But I decided to do a bloody stupid natural horsemanship manoeuvre. Like Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, I stayed in the field refusing to concede, which made her crosser and crosser.
She charged me so close that I thought she was actually going to trample me. So I started to chase after her. I ran around panting and pleading. This she found hilarious. She ran in ever bigger circles as I huffed and puffed behind. She galloped; I galumphed about in my wellies, at one point weeping.
Now and then, she would stop at the water tank to take on refreshment. Slurping a cool draught, she would pause, lick her lips, yawn, then, when I got to within a hair’s breadth, tear off across the field, leaving me chasing and gasping for breath. ‘This is the wrong way around, do you hear me! I’m meant to tire you out!’ I shouted.
After an hour, I thought, ‘Sod Monty Roberts.’ And I went and fetched a lunge line, waited until she went for a drink, then tied it across the narrower part of the field where the trough is, so she was trapped in a smaller space.
‘No point running now, Gracie!’ I called. But I was wrong. She tossed her head in the air and charged. She reached the rope at full speed, stopped with an inch to spare, reared up, flipped leftwards and turned sharply on her left hind leg.
Within half an hour the left rear fetlock was swollen and she was lame. I had to shut her in the field shelter with a haynet to recuperate.
And if all things were equal, this would be a rare example of when multiple horse ownership makes some sense. For I then went off to ride Darcy the thoroughbred, who is stabled in a posh livery yard down the road. She has been sound and going well for ages. But, of course, within minutes of me getting on, it was plainly obvious she was lame. In her left hind leg.
‘Have you two been talking to each other? Is this some plot you’ve cooked up?’
As I grovelled around her foot, frantically feeling for heat, Darcy snorted philosophically.